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Pakistani Government Negotiating With Mosque Rebels


Attempts to negotiate an end to a standoff at an Islamabad mosque have failed to make progress.

Pakistani Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani told reporters that negotiators made "no breakthrough" in Monday's talks with the mosque's religious leaders.

Durrani says it is too dangerous for the negotiators to enter the mosque. The team, which includes several religious leaders, is led by former Pakistani Prime Minister Chaudry Shujaat.

Scores of militants led by radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi have refused previous orders to surrender.

The government says the militants are holding hundreds of women hostage as human shields in hopes of preventing a possible assault on the mosque by government troops. The women attend a school in the mosque compound.

Clashes between militants in the Red Mosque and troops surrounding the compound have killed at least 21 people over the past week, including a Pakistani army commander, killed on Sunday.

Ghazi has said everyone with him in the mosque would rather die fighting than surrender to government forces.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Saturday that the militants will be killed if they do not surrender. Ghazi has said he hopes his death will provoke an Islamic revolution in Pakistan. Ghazi's followers want to install strict Taleban-style Islamic law in Pakistan.

Ghazi said Sunday that government gunfire overnight had killed hundreds of people at the mosque, but Pakistani authorities scoffed at the claim and challenged him to allow ambulances to collect the bodies of the dead.

The government says some militants in the mosque are linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

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